Sarah Young was born in Nashville, Tennessee, and grew up in the South. After graduating from college she made four trips to Europe in less than five years. During her fourth trip, she became a Christian at L'Abri Fellowship in a tiny Alphine village in France. With a degree in philosophy from Wellesley College, Sarah also holds graduate degrees in psychology/counseling from Tufts University, Covenant Theological Seminary, and Georgia State University.
She met her husband Steve at Covenant Seminary. They are employed by Mission to the World and have worked in various sites in Japan and Australia, planting Japanese churches and counseling. Steve and Sarah currently minister to Japanese people living in Perth, Western Australia.
How did you learn to "dialogue" with God?
My journey began with a devotional book (God Calling) written in the 1930's by two women who practiced waiting in God's Presence, writing the messages they received as they "listened." About a year after I started reading this book, I began to wonder if I too could receive messages during my times of communing with God. I had been writing in prayer journals for years, but this was one-way communication: "monologue." I knew that God communicates through the Bible (and I treasure His Word), but I wondered what He might say to me personally on a given day. So I decided to "listen" to God with pen in hand, writing down whatever I sensed He was saying. Of course, I wasn't listening for an audible voice; I was seeking the "still, small voice" of God in my mind/heart.
How awkward was it initially to begin a "dialogue" with God?
It felt a little awkward the first time I tried it, but I did receive a short message. The content was biblical, and it addressed themes that were current in my life: trust, fear, and closeness to God. I responded by writing in my journal as usual; at that point my journaling changed from monologue to dialogue. Day by day, messages began to flow more freely. This new way of communicating with God became the high point of my day. I knew that my writings were not inspired (as only Scripture is), but they were helping me grow closer to our living Lord.
What would you tell someone who wants to begin "listening" to God?
Let me begin with some cautions. It's essential to remember that the Bible is the only infallible record of God's speaking. Always subordinate your personal listening to absolute biblical truth. If something you "hear" is inconsistent with biblical teaching, don't write it down–it's not from God. New Christians, especially, need to be cautious about listening to God in this way. I had been a Christian for 20 years before I began this practice. On the other hand, believers are instructed to "Be still and know that I am God" (). I believe there is immense value in learning to wait quietly in God's Presence. For me, the main benefit has been coming to know God intimately, rather than simply knowing about Him. This has increased my love for Him, my trust in Him and His unfailing love ( ), and my awareness of His Presence with me always ( ).
Can you describe how you actually go about listening to God?
Whenever I move to a new home, I look for a place where I can meet God in quiet communion. That becomes my sanctuary for listening to Him. Before I begin, I pray for protection of my mind from distractions, distortions, and deception. I ask that I will hear only the voice of Jesus, yet every single word He wants me to hear. Then I simply pray, "Help me, Holy Spirit," and I listen. Eventually, I "hear" a phrase or sentence, and I write it down. As I listen and write, I continue asking for the Holy Spirit's help. I also thank Jesus for the message as I receive it from Him. I may take short breaks from listening, to read what I've already written. I try to relax and enjoy Jesus' Presence, not becoming overly focused on writing. Scripture often comes to mind, and I write that in whatever version I remember it.
Share a memorable experience when you began listening to God with pen in hand.
I began my listening-writing adventure while living in Melbourne, Australia. Soon after beginning this practice, I had a routine medical check-up that led to scheduling a hysterectomy. During that uncertain time of awaiting surgery, I was comforted by messages gleaned from listening to God. I wondered whether I would be able to receive messages in the hospital, but I packed my journal and took it with me. To my delight, I was able to "listen" to Jesus in the hospital as readily as in my home. Because of post-op complications, I was in and out of the hospital for three weeks, but God's precious messages continued flowing into my journal. This helped me stay close to Jesus throughout that tumultuous time.
What are some of the most important truths you have learned from journaling?
I'll list a few: 1) Thankfulness is a source of deep joy and rich blessing; it changes my perspective and helps me draw closer to God. 2) Though my natural tendency is to analyze and try to figure things out, trusting Jesus is a far better way to live. I've realized how very limited my understanding is. 3) When I turn to God in my weakness, I receive His help and compassion in abundant measure. 4) Peace is inherent in Jesus' Presence; so the nearer I live to Him, the more I enjoy His peace. 5) God sees His children clothed in the perfect righteousness of Jesus. 6) Nothing can separate us from Jesus' love. 7) There is, indeed, "fullness of joy" in His Presence (NKJV).
How have your studies in philosophy and counseling helped you in your walk with God?
When I majored in philosophy at Wellesley, I was a non-Christian searching for truth. Each time I began studying a new philosophy I'd get excited, thinking this one might end my quest. However, further study always revealed flaws. Eventually, I became disillusioned and concluded there was no absolute truth. A few years later, though, when I read Francis Schaeffer's Escape from Reason, my background in philosophy helped me to understand his reasoning. I found in that book answers to questions I had previously considered unanswerable. This opened the way for me to study at L'Abri, a Christian community begun by the Schaeffers. While living and studying there, I became a Christian.
My counseling studies helped me deal with deep woundedness from my past. As I forgave and healed, I experienced a new freedom to grow spiritually. It was as if old blockages had been removed, enabling me to open up to God more fully. This was a necessary step along the path to intimacy with Jesus. My studies in counseling also equipped me to help other wounded people: an avenue of ministry that I value highly.
Read an excerpt of Jesus Calling by Sarah Young.
Courtesy of The B & B Media Group.